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Concert Reviews:
Gov't Mule's Dark Side show is a bright summer highlight at DTE

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Monday, August 27, 2018

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- The bright side of a full moon -- fresh out of the day's storm clouds -- shined over the DTE Energy Music Theatre on Saturday night, Aug. 25, while the Dark Side of the Mule reigned, supremely, on the stage below.

Dark Side found Gov't Mule celebrating the music of Pink Floyd 10 years after the group first did it as a one-off Halloween show. It's playing a handful of concerts this summer to celebrate that anniversary, immersing in Floyd's catalog -- not just the seminal "The Dark Side of the Moon" album -- for most of its hour-and-40-minute set at DTE. It was a spot-on celebration, with the group delivering the 15 Floyd songs faithfully but with enough of its own flavor, especially in frontman Warren Haynes' guitar stylings, to make it more than a mere tribute.

With the Mule's quartet ranks expanded to nine with additional musicians, including three backup singers, it was a thoughtful presentation, capturing the spirit of Floyd, from the intricate ambience of the song arrangements to the extensive laser show that illuminated the DTE pavilion and even a mirror ball overhead, a longtime Floyd trademark, during "Comfortably Numb." Drummer Matt Abts, sporting a pink jacket and singing "Have a Cigar," also had the temerity to change the song's lyric from "By the way, which one's Pink?" to "Which one's Mule?"

The Mule also dug deep into the Floyd catalog, not just playing well-known totems such as "Money," "Breathe," "Time," "Have a Cigar," "Welcome to the Machine" and a note-perfect "Shine on You Crazy Diamond Parts I-V" -- with Haynes and, occasionally, saxophonist Ron Holloway playing standout solos -- but also dug in deep for earlier material such as 1969's hard-rocking "The Nile Song" and 1971's "Fearless."

The Mule brought its tour mates into the party, too. The Avett Brothers, Scott and Seth, took over lead vocals during "Time," while the Magpie Salute's John Hogg and Marc Ford joined for "The Nile Song," with the latter shredding a song-closing solo. Magpie's Rich Robinson followed, singing and playing guitar on "Fearless." It was disappointing that a large portion of the half-full house, mostly Avett hipsters, had left during the Mule's set; As the group wrapped things up with "Wish You Were Here," one would hope they wished they had stayed for such a stellar, and rare, experience.

The Avetts certainly received a headliner's reception during its 75-minute set, a characteristically exuberant 16-song romp rootsy but also sophisticated Americana. Whether playing as a full sextet, just a duo (during a version of Jim Croce's "Operator") or Scott Avett solo on "Murder in the City," the Avetts played with roof-raising force, and in addition to delivering some sharp guitar solos of his own the pig-tailed Seth Avett made in impressive beeline up one of the pavilion aisles all the way to the lawn and back during "Ain't No Man."

The Magpie Salute, meanwhile, established itself more as the home of three former Black Crowes but rather, as Robinson noted, "a brand new band" showcasing material from its recently released debut album "High Water I." The sextet still played with same Crowes-like blend of precision and improvisation, and its (too) short set elevated with its own guests -- the Avett Brothers' on a version of "You Don't Miss Your Water," and Gov't Mule's Haynes and Danny Louis on an expansive take of War's "War Song." The group plans to be back in the metro area during early 2019, and Saturday's sampler was certainly a potent lure for that show.

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